OPINION: My inspirational first trip to Israel as Chief Rabbi

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OPINION: My inspirational first trip to Israel as Chief Rabbi

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, filled with Jewish pilgrims
The Western Wall in Jerusalem, filled with Jewish pilgrims
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

By Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi

Approximately 70 times a year, our community rabbis, stand at their pulpits to deliver a Shabbat or Yomtov sermon. They are uniquely privileged to have these valuable moments to use as they see fit for the betterment and enhancement of their communities.

In delivering reflections drawn from the Torah and our wider tradition on the central issues that confront us within our changing and challenging world, our rabbis have the ear of thousands of members of our communities and with that the responsibility and opportunity to teach and inspire.

With this in mind, this week I took a group of 50 rabbis on one of the largest ever rabbinic missions to Israel from the UK. Our trip is designed to equip our rabbis with the means to inspire our communities to build deep ties and an enduring relationship with Israel.

Our key educators, the spiritual leaders of British Jewry, will be brought face to face with the wonders and the challenges of Israel today. Our participants have the opportunity to see first-hand and gain a better appreciation of the political, social, economic and religious reality within which Israel survives and thrives.

We will be exploring narratives. Narratives of faith, political narratives, narratives of a society in flux and narratives of social change. We are meeting with rabbinic leaders and other faith leaders, with key political figures together with political commentators. We are witnessing first-hand what Israel is doing to transform itself and the positive impact it is having on the lives of many in third world countries.

We’ll share many special experiences. Through this visit, our group of rabbis will gain a better understanding of the complexities of the current situation in Israel. We will deepen our awareness of both old and new challenges.

It is my hope that we return to our communities, galvanised by our experiences and the opportunities for reflection we have had, to strengthen the love our communities have for our sacred country and the central role it plays within our faith.

The inextricable link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel is clear for all to see. It dates back not only to God’s covenant with Abraham but, according to our tradition, to the creation of the world.

In his opening commentary to the Torah, Rashi brings a rabbinic tradition stating that the reason the Torah commences with details of creation is to emphasise that as creator of the world, it is in God’s gift to determine which lands belong to which people. In this context, Israel is the eternal home and God-given land of the Jewish people.

Through the two millennia of exile, we have prayed thrice daily: “May our eyes behold Your return to Zion in mercy.”

For the Jewish people, Israel is not and has never been a mere idea or a place of the heart. It is a physical reality, where we live and breathe as a people. The 66-year-old state is a modern-day miracle for which we thank the Almighty on a daily basis. We pray for its safety and security. We pray for peace.

The Jewish people’s connection to this land is deep and eternal. It goes to the very fibre of our being as a faith community and as a nation. It defines who we are. No legitimate theological narrative or theological reinterpretation can deny this fundamental and essential link and any that does or attempts to do so must be confronted and exposed for what it is.

Looking at the reality that is Israel, we cannot fail to be impressed and exceptionally proud of what our people has achieved in such a short space of time. While Israel is not alone in facing difficult challenges, the Jewish state has become a paradigm in many areas of endeavour, an example that others around the world admire and seek to emulate. We’ve been looking forward to the many opportunities our trip presents for us to develop and grow as rabbis.

We’ve also looked forward to returning to our communities to enjoy sharing with our congregants and the wider British Jewish community our reflections on what we hope will be a memorable and enlightening experience in Medinat Yisrael ­– the eternal home of the Jewish people.

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